Allison van Diepen’s previous books include gritty urban realism, vampire stories, and two novels for the Harlequin Teen imprint. In Takedown, which grew out of her experience teaching inner-city youth in Brooklyn, the Ottawa author returns to the first of these genres.
The story focuses on Darren, a teenager who has resumed dealing drugs after two years in a juvenile detention centre, not because he sees crime as his only option, but because he is determined to bring down the leader of his organization, known as Diamond Tony. Darren agrees to act as an informant to a police officer eager to advance his career. After several violent incidents involving a rival drug lord leave numerous people dead, Darren ends up being promoted within Diamond Tony’s criminal family.
Despite the fact that Darren narrates the story (guaranteeing he’ll survive until the end), Takedown is one hell of a page-turner, with enough twists and turns to demand reading in one sitting. But plot alone does not drive the novel: it features complex characters, including Darren, who wants nothing more than to leave the drug business, help his family achieve a better life, and pursue a career in music. And unlike so many fast-paced stories set in male-dominated environments, this one features several fully drawn female characters, including a police officer who has her own reasons for wanting Diamond Tony brought to justice.
Readers familiar with Toronto’s landmarks and street names will recognize the novel’s setting, but the city is never named. If this is a ploy to get Canadian-authored YA fiction published in the U.S., it’s a good one.